Rob Sturdy: Spiritual Presence in the Sacramental Theology of the Medieval Church

20 12 2011

This essay was for a course called “Pre-Reformation developments.”  The paper principally deals with the doctrine of the spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist during the Medieval period.  The strange language used towards the end of the paper is “middle English.”  It’s not quite as hard to read as it looks.

How, if at all, is Christ present in the Eucharist?  The question itself was one of the most hotly contested of the Protestant Reformation.  Though the question is formally a matter of sacramental theology, the answer to the question for the Reformers often rested upon their own Christological presuppositions.  After all, how one understands the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ, as well as what limits (if any!) one believes should be placed upon the physical body of Jesus will influence how one understands the possibility of the presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine.  One could say that Christology sets the grounds rules for sacramental theology.

For many of the Reformed, the Christology that sets the ground rules for their sacramental theology has come to be known as the extra-Calvinisticum. Oberman defines the extra-Calvinisticum as the theological conviction “that the immutable God became man without diminution or loss as regards any of his attributes” joined with the conviction that the “existence of the second person of the Trinity et extra cernem.” [1]To put it more simply, the extra holds to the ubiquity of the divine Word, the local presence of the physical body of Jesus contained in heaven, while emphasizing the unity of the two in the person of Christ.[2] The extra-Calvinisticum as a formal Christology had many advocates long before its namesake John Calvin.  The affinity of patristic and even scholastic Christology with the extra-Calvinisticum has been demonstrated by many scholars and will be briefly reviewed in this paper.  Despite the presence of theextra-Calvinisiticum in the formal Christology of Calvin’s predecessors, it is noticeably lacking in the sacramental theology of many of Calvin’s more mainstream predecessors.  This does not mean, however, that the extra-Calvinisticum as applied to sacramental theology is altogether absent.  This paper will demonstrate that the extra-Calvinisticum as applied to sacramental theology was present, albeit in a minority fashion, from the late 9th century up until the eve of the Reformation.  This will broaden the thesis that the extra-Calvinisticum should not only be regarded as a catholic doctrine in its formal Christology, but in its application to sacramental theology as well. Read the rest of this entry »